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Behaviour / Dog Behaviour Solutions / Policy on use of eletronic collars

In-house Policy on the Use of Electronic Collars

Purpose of this Policy

This policy describes the views of Cam Day Consulting on the use of electronic collars on dogs and cats.

Its purpose is to describe the views expected of employees of Cam Day Consulting and, when electronic collars are used, in what circumstances employees are permitted to implement the use of collars.

This policy has been written by Dr Cam Day BVSc. BSc. MACVS (Animal Behaviour Veterinarian).

This policy covers the use of:

1.     Electric stimulus collars (sometimes referred to as electric shock collars) where the collar applies an electric stimulus to the neck of a dog or cats.

  • We are aware that in some circumstances collars are used to provide the stimulus in other areas of an animal’s body such as over the chest or in the flank area.

2.   Compressed liquid or gas collars which emit a jet of aversive liquid (commonly citronella) or aversive gas (commonly compressed air)

3.    Other forms of collars which may include, but are not restricted to:-

  • Sound-emitting collars (commonly ultra-sonic sounds)
  • Vibration collars

In this document, the above devices are collectively referred to as E-collars.

Overview

Employees of Cam Day Consulting should not routinely recommend the use of E-collars. 

In most cases of behaviour therapy, we expect employees would avoid the use of E-collars and search for other alternatives.

However, when an employee has fully considered the animal welfare vectors of an individual case and considers the use of an E-collar may be in the best interest of the welfare of the animal concerned, they can approach management to discuss that usage.

E-collars cannot be purchased through www.pethealth.com.au.

Background

The E-collar industry has progressed since the first introduction of such collars onto the market. Earlier collars were inhumane.

Newer collars can incorporate technologies which make their usage more acceptable if full consideration is given to:-

  1. Case selection.

  2. The benefits or limits of alternative strategies.

  3. The animal welfare vectors of each individual case.

  4. The responsible usage of an E-collar under strict supervision and guidance of a qualified behaviourist.

How We Prefer to Create Behaviour Change

Behaviour change at Cam Day Consulting is created through a three-step process:-

Step 1       Fully assessing each case

Step 2       Then implementing a four-point system of therapy based on the assessment

Step 3       Providing long-term support to ensure any case is reaching its outcome targets.

Employees are reminded that our four-point system of therapy (termed the ‘balance of therapies’) will require us to look at:

  1. Medical causes of the behavioural problem

  2.  Methods by which an animal can be taught to show wanted behaviours thereby reducing unwanted behaviours.

  3. Means by which a behaviour is managed to reduce is frequency

  4. Deciding if pheromones or medications will be needed to effect a change in behaviour.

If an E-collar is used, at a minimum that can only occur after a full assessment is made and more usually after a full investigation of the balance of therapies has been undertaken and alternative strategies have been fully investigated.

With reference to the four points of the balance of therapies, employees should note that:

  1. Where a medical issue is a component of the behavioural problem, attempting to change the behaviour by use of an E-collar is contrary to the animal’s welfare as it allows the medical issue to continue untreated. The effects of the E-collar could hide the clinical signs of the medical disorder.

  2. Where an animal is in a state where it cannot learn, the use of an E-collar is contraindicated as it could adversely affect the welfare of the animal.

Notes

  • Some animals are intellectually unable to learn either as a virtue of their age or due to variations seen in ‘intelligence’ which in many ways is directly analogous to IQ variations seen in humans.
  • Some animals are in a behavioural state where their ability to learn is reduced  and in particular animals with:-
    • Anxiety disorders (including but not limited to separation anxieties)
    • Panic disorders (including but not limited to escaping behaviours, and noise fears)
    • Fearful natures where the implementation of aversion-based strategies compounds their fear and thereby creates an anxious (or a panic) response when that animal repeatedly experiences the same fear-evoking stimulus.
    • Compulsive disorders (including but not limited to some forms of barking, self-mutilation and aggression)

3.  Managing behaviour properly can reduce or eliminate the need for an E-collar. Management can include:-

  • Enriched housing to reduce fearful, anxious or compulsive behaviours and to reduce excessive vocalisation.
  • Provision of adequate fences to reduce excessive vocalisation in dogs, to manage aggressive behaviour in dogs and cats and to prevent dogs and cats from escaping or roaming. Adequate fencing can also manage predation on other animals.

3.   Medications and pheromones are often much better targeted at the cause of unwanted behaviours than E-collars because when carefully used they can:-

    • Reduce anxieties, fears and compulsive behaviours where an E-collar usually cannot
    • Create a state where an animal is more capable of learning

 How E-Collars Create a Behaviour Change

 In animals that are capable of learning, behaviour change is mostly created by:-

  1.  Reinforcement of a behaviour

  • Where a behaviour is strengthened and more likely to occur again

  1. Punishment of a behaviour

  • Where a behaviour is weakened and is less likely to occur again

Further, reinforcement occurs in two ways

  1. Positive reinforcement

  • Where a behaviour is strengthened by the receipt of a perceived benefit (often a reward)

  1. Negative reinforcement

  • Where a behaviour is strengthened by the removal of something perceived as being unpleasant

Punishment also occurs in two ways

  1. Positive punishment

  • Where a behaviour is weakened by the receipt of something perceived as being unpleasant

  1. Negative punishment

  • Where a behaviour is weakened by the removal of something perceived as being pleasant

Can E-Collars Change Behaviour with Positive Reinforcement?

  • Bark-reduction collars and containment collars currently cannot implement positive reinforcement as a primary means of changing behaviour.
  • Remote collars often contain an audible electronic signal (a beep) which can be used to reward wanted behaviour but they are not commonly used in this way. They require very good operator training to achieve this.

Can E-Collars Change Behaviour with Negative Reinforcement?

  • When an animal chooses to avoid a consequence it is strengthening an alternative behaviour. E-collars that emit a warning tone, such as confinement collars and some bark-reduction collars, are teaching a dog to avoid a consequence and this is thereby negative reinforcement.

    Notes.

    • A useful example of negative reinforcement is that a driver will choose to slow down when seeing a police radar to avoid the fine. By using marked police cars, road-side radar vans with adequate sign marking and road-side speed cameras with sign marking, the police are strengthening slower driving using negative reinforcement. Drivers choose to avoid the fine.
    • Because a dog or cat chooses not to get the electric stimulus, the knowledgeable implementation (by a behaviourist) of warning tones can be more welfare positive than the use of the aversive stimulus (shock)

Can E-Collars Change Behaviour with Positive Punishment?

  • E-collars attempt to change behaviour by positive punishment when an aversive stimulus (e.g. a shock, citronella spray or cold air) is administered as an immediate consequence of an animals’ behaviour.
  • Pet owners who use loud voices, hit pets with rolled newspapers, throw items at pets and use other aversive stimuli are also practicing positive punishment.

Notes:

  • A pet has to be capable of learning for positive punishment to work
  • Pets with fearful or anxious natures often do not respond well to positive punishment
  • Aggressive pets can become more aggressive when positive punishment is used.
  • Timing is very important with positive punishment so, for pets that are capable of learning, one advantage of E-collars is that the stimulus is better timed to the unwanted behaviour. Owners are often incapable of timing aversive stimuli correctly and the positive punishment they use is therefore often off-target
  • But owners or trainers can choose when the punishment is appropriate whereas collars attempt to positively punish all occurrences of a behaviour – whether it is appropriate or not.

Can E-Collars Change Behaviour with Negative Punishment?

  • Negative punishment changes behaviour by removing something perceived as being pleasant. E-collars cannot function in this way on a primary level.

Notes:

  • Some could argue that E-collars used for confinement remove the pleasure of free-roaming but this is not the primary way in which confinement collars work to keep pets within a boundary.

Animal Welfare Outcomes We Have Observed from the Use of E-collars

We have consulted with many dog owners and a few cat owners who have used E-collars on their pets prior to seeking our assistance and have seen detrimental outcomes and some beneficial outcomes from the use of E-collars.

Below is a summary of some of the animal welfare outcomes we have observed.

At this stage, we do not have means of collating these outcomes and the below information is empiric only but employees can discuss the below information with clients to allow clients to be fully informed.

Undesirable Animal Welfare Outcomes We Have Observed

  • Fearful behaviour when approached by owners

    • Including submissive urination and defecation, hyperventilation

  • Anxious behaviours when approached by owners

    • Including moroseness, cowering, trembling, avoidance, escaping, growling

  • When an electronic stimulus is received:-

    • Yelping and screaming
    • Cowering and freezing
  • Pressure necrosis from contacts on neck

  • Dogs being fearful of being in areas of the garden protected by containment systems

  • Failure of collars to achieve behaviour change

    • Note- failures seem to be more common when collars are used for anxious and compulsive behaviours

  • Creation of unexpected behaviour changes

    • Changes in nature or frequency of vocalisation to avoid the electric stimulus
    • Animals motivated to endure a containment collar stimulus to escape and then becoming ‘trapped’ outside the boundary fence by the containment system not allowing the animal to return.

Notes: Most of the above outcomes were based on owner-error in the implementation of the collar usage and/or inadequacy of the documentation included with the device.

Desirable Animal Welfare Outcomes We Have Observed

  • Reduction or cessation of unwanted behaviour that could not be achieved in other ways including

    • Escape-related behaviours in dogs and cats where significant welfare risk would be present if escaping continued
    • Excessive vocalisation in dogs where owner punishment was causing anxiety and distress
    • Reduction in some dangerous forms of owner-directed aggression
    • Reduction in predatory aggression in some large dogs
  • Confinement of cats to property/garden where enclosure confinement was causing distress and where the cat’s welfare would be at great risk if roaming was allowed to continue.

How Often Would Employees Be Expected to Use E-Collars?

It is expected that the usage of E-collars would be rare. 

Summary

  1. Used incorrectly, E-collars can be harmful to animals and can place an animal’s welfare in jeopardy.

  2. E-collars should only be used when other remedies have been proven to be unsuitable and only when an animal’s welfare will be enhanced by the use of the collar.

  3. E-collars should not be used as the sole remedy for animal behavioural problems. Balanced broad-based solutions give best results.

  4. Used correctly E-collars can provide welfare benefits when combined with other broad-based solutions.

  5. E-collars should only be implemented when qualified behaviourists are overseeing their usage.

  6. Not all E-collars are equal in their benefit-to-risk ratio.

  • Remote-activated collars require considerable skill to ensure their use is correct and are the collars most likely to cause harm.
  • Bark-activated collars need to be used with great caution for dogs with anxious, fearful or compulsive behaviours. For such behaviours, there use may be contraindicated.
  • Containment collars need to be installed thoughtfully and adequate training is vital to ensure the dog or cat recognises the boundary to minimise the stimulus received. Where traditional fences are not effective, a containment collar system properly installed can produce welfare benefits by preventing roaming.